Step forward and volunteer
Josie Saunders tells us about her motivations for joining the VSS Board and why volunteering now will help Scotland’s justice system recovery from the pandemic.
Last month, Victim Support Scotland (VSS) started a major recruitment exercise for more volunteers to join the charity in preparation for court activity increasing, between now and September, as the country recovers from the pandemic.
Volunteering is at the heart of VSS’s success and it comes in many forms, from the people who provide frontline support and fundraise for the organisation to the trustees who sit on the Board. I am extremely proud to be part of helping to shape VSS’ journey for the next three years and look forward to working with the team to achieve great things.
Becoming a Trustee
When I saw an advert last year looking for new trustees, I immediately knew that I wanted to apply. Like many people, I have friends and family who have been victims of crime, from sexual assault and domestic abuse to burglary and hate crime. I have seen first-hand how devastating not only the effects of the crime itself can be but how the criminal justice experience can either help or hinder someone from getting their life back on track afterwards.
Before joining the board in January, I knew that VSS played a vital role in supporting victims and offering practical help as well as emotional support and guidance on how to navigate the complexity of the criminal justice system. I also knew that staff would be non-judgmental, committed and person centric. What I hadn’t expected was the breadth of the work that VSS carries out, from liaising with the Scottish Government and Ministers and informing decision-making and legislative changes to partnership working with organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid, Police Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services (SCTS).
I also had not realised that VSS supports victims and witnesses of crime regardless of whether a crime has been reported but I quickly learned that by doing so, VSS was making sure that no-one is prevented from getting the help they need simply because they have not been officially recognised as a victim.
In my day job, I am responsible for reputation management, marketing and communications within a Scottish public body that delivers regeneration and investment around Scotland’s canal network. I have seen first-hand how some communities are disproportionately affected by higher levels of crime, unemployment and poverty, and how this acts as a barrier in trying to improve an individual’s life chances. I have also seen how well-informed, empathetic and relevant support can help people to exercise their rights as well as coming to terms with what has happened.
Having worked for six years as a journalist on national and regional newspapers reporting on stories of individuals, families and communities whose lives were blighted by crime but for one reason or another couldn’t report it to the police or if they had done so, had battled with bureaucracy before giving up, I also saw the human cost as they were left traumatised by the experience. These insights have taught me that crime can affect anyone, regardless of where you live, what kind of work you do or how much money you have.
Providing a lifeline
Since joining the Board earlier this year, I have seen how VSS provides a lifeline to people affected by crime; from explaining their rights, helping to keep them safe and accessing services to attending court and providing financial support for costs associated with crime.
I have been inspired by the inclusive way that the new five year plan – 2021-26 VSS Strategy Empowering People Affected by Crime – was co-designed by staff, partners, users and the Board and while Covid has not allowed me to meet as many people as I would have liked, the professionalism, expertise and dedication of everyone I have come into contact with these past few months has shone through.
VSS’ ambitious five-year strategy commits the organisation to adapting to the changing nature of crime and to being a voice for witnesses and victims as the justice sector continues to evolve. It also sets out plans to increase VSS’ profile and ensure the organisation remains sustainable and resilient in the future. None of this can be achieved without the invaluable support of volunteers, which is why the current recruitment campaign is so critical. I would therefore encourage anyone thinking about applying, to step forward and volunteer.
Interested in volunteering? See our support volunteers page to find out more and apply.